In an obscene turn of events reserved for pasquinade the dear Minister of Arts and Culture (residing in the Ministry of Intolerance and Prejudice), Lulu Xingwana, stormed out of an art exhibition held at Constitution Hill last August.
The dear Minister was so indignant that she called the artworks “… immoral, offensive and going against nation-building.”
Now that’s pretty rich coming from an obvious plebeian only in official title by virtue of bestowment by the Moral Compass of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, and probably owning a matching flashy car (most likely a BMW 7 series as is precept and precedent) holding the sceptre over Arts and Culture.
“While viewing the artwork, Xingwana appeared most upset by the work of Muholi and Mntambo, which deals with intimacy between women,” reports the Times of South Africa.
The artworks which scarred our dear Minister for life and caused all the brouhaha – to the extent that she couldn’t even read her speech – was “… a series of photographs by prominent artist and lesbian activist Zanele Muholi, of naked, black women embracing each other, Xingwana slammed the work as ‘pornographic’, spoke to her aides, and left in a huff. Her personal assistant read out her speech.”
Yes, the pious Minister cannot stand visually stunning and tasteful photographs of women which in fact do not even show societal taboos such as certain parts of the breasts and “below the belt areas”. Those were all cleverly and indeed artistically covered. The Minister thinks it amounts to pornography. Now I wonder if the porn label only relates to the assumed gay imagery…
It is especially ironic and terribly regressive that this happened in very close proximity to the much esteemed South African Constitutional Court. This is the same Constitutional Court which scrapped old discriminatory statutes and effectively ordered Parliament to legalise same-sex marriage. This Court gives ultimatums to Government yet the Minister of Arts and Culture provides a nice symbolic desecration in return and tramples all over the Bill of Rights with her tantrum. The Bill of Rights explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and provides for freedom of speech, as long as it doesn’t grossly violate another group’s rights.
The Minister was sweet enough to throw in the What-About-The-Children card as some kind of substantiation for her theatrics. This is quite odd when one considers that none of the imagery amounts to pornography. Muholi, the artist, says to the Times in rebuttal that “…children need to know about these things. A lot of people who have no understanding of sexual orientation, people are suffering in silence…”
A constitutionally protected minority apparently has to be swept under the rug and children should preferably be protected from this minority. A plethora of articles covering this national disaster have mocked the supposed moral superiority of the new nationalists. The more things change the more they stay the same; from one bunch of nationalists to another. Is anyone else seeing the pattern here?
This hideous event was reported on beyond South African borders, with the Guardian in the UK highlighting the delineating statement which should have tipped off Her Piousness:
“In the exhibition’s catalogue, Muholi’s artwork is described as being ‘without precedent in South Africa, where there are very few instances of black women openly portraying female same-sex practices.’”
The Minister however strongly denies it was the implied sexual orientation which caused all the ire, as the Mail & Guardian reports:
“[The Minister’s personal assistant] denied that the minister objected to the fact that the women were lesbians. ‘I don’t think it’s based on sexual orientation. It’s more to do with the fact they’re not wearing clothes and engaging in what looks like sexual acts. The minister stands by what she did.’”
Arts and Culture Minister
The Minister should have expected very substantial fallout. But, then again, maybe this is the direction the regime under Jacob Zuma is going. Just before the April 2009 general elections Mr Zuma played lay preacher at the Rhema Bible Church, which is spearheaded by former World Iron Man wannabe Ray McCauley. It was reported that Zuma, in distinct demagogue fashion, placed same-sex marriage rights and abortion on auction for the loudest sycophant, as elaborated on by the Mail & Guardian.
In February 2010 we learned of the looming national debate on morality as envisaged by none other than President Zuma. This came literally days after the discovery of the president’s umpteenth child (the latest one being illegitimate) and lover. Some now rightfully wonders what “practice what you preach” means in modern day South Africa.
Annelie Lotriet of the official opposition party in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), released a very critical statement on Xingwana’s hissy fit, calling the Minister a bigot with no capacity to uphold the Constitution and suggests that Xingwana should tender her resignation. The statement by the DA also revisits the history of Zuma’s bigoted utterances: “same sex marriage is a disgrace to the nation and to God. When I was growing up, ‘ungqingili’ [homosexuals in isiZulu] could not stand in front of me, I would knock him out.” Lotriet also reminds the reader that Zuma recently appointed the rabidly, anti-gay Jon Qwelane as ambassador to Uganda.
The DA further raises some concerns:
“It would appear that, below the surface bigotry and prejudice run deep in the ANC. It is disgraceful. If this government is serious about creating a genuine democracy built on a foundation of human rights, it needs to act against the kind of prejudice the Minister espouses. One would hope the Minister has enough perspective to sanction herself and resign, should her pride prevent her from doing so, President Jacob Zuma needs to take action.”
Lastly, it would only be fitting to note the opinion of a renowned South African artist and professor of fine arts, Penny Siopis. She tells the Times that:
“The fact is, as a minister she is a representative of our Constitution. It does not matter if she has a personal distaste for what she sees.”
If this kind of atavistic behaviour is a sign of things to come and some indication of the Zeitgeist within the ANC, I see a very gloomy future for the LGBTIQ community in South Africa. One can only hope that the Constitution is protected from the nationalists’ prejudice and conservativism. Bigotry knows no boundaries and symbolic gestures are often a taste of things to come.